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Clydesdale and Athena Triathlete Beginner Resources

by Kyla Lupo

Welcome new triathlete! Welcome to the amazing world of triathlon. And if you’re like me, welcome to the Athena and Clydesdale world.

First thing, what is an Athena or Clydesdale athlete?

Athena/Clydesdale (or A/C) is a weight-based racing category. It is a category you may choose to race in. No one will ever force you to race A/C. Just like an Age Group, Athena or Clydesdale is its own division and it is often broken up into age groups as well (39 and younger, 40-54, 55 and older). To race as an Athena you must weigh in before your race and weigh more than 165 pounds. As a Clydesdale you must weigh in at 220 pounds or more.

Everyone still with me? Great - let’s get going!

You’ve taken a bold first step - deciding to train for and/or race a triathlon. It is no small feat, no matter how short the race is. Whether you’re dreaming of Kona or Team USA or just finishing the local triathlon with a smile - all are a challenge. And it’s one that you can rise to.

If you take nothing else from this article, please take this: You belong here

It doesn't matter how big or small you are, what gender you are, what size kit you wear, what color your skin is, who you love, or where you come from. You belong in triathlon. You’re already ready for this challenge in the body you have right now. You belong in triathlon.

In this article, and in the ones to come, I’m going to give you the advice I wish someone had given me when I started out in triathlon.

Triathlon is more than just physical endurance. There is the mental and emotional race as well. Not to mention a lot of logistics and planning. But don’t let that put you off. Follow the advice of those who have come before, tailor it to your needs. Over time it will become second nature and you won’t stress as much about it.

For those of us who live in bigger or heavier bodies there are a few, just a few, considerations to think about. I’ll address these as they come up below.

Where should I get my initial guidance? Who do I ask for advice?

Not everyone wants to start out with a coach, especially if you don’t know how passionate you’re going to be about the sport. And a USA Triathlon Certified Coach or USA Triathlon Certified Club is the best place to get reliable and safe advice. There are a couple fantastic Athena/Clydesdale Facebook groups that were created and are managed by Athena/Clydesdale athletes. These groups are great for gear recommendations, race reports, and making new friends to meet up with at races. There is a lot of information in the world about triathlon, so it may seem overwhelming at first. How can you sort the good from the bad? There is no tried and true method for this. This is where those Facebook groups are fantastic. You can also look on the USAT website for coaches and clubs that say they specialize in A/C.

What distance should I do?

As a coach I have a rule - I never say no. So if you come to me and say “Kyla, I want to do an ultra-distance (commonly referred to as an IRONMAN)," I won’t say no. I will make sure you race a Sprint or Olympic-distance at least once to get a feel for doing the three sports all in one go.

But here’s my advice: if you want to make sure your first race is fun, start with a sprint. The entry fees are a little lower, you get to support your local race director, you’re done in less than 3 hours, and you still get an awesome medal. Sprint distances don’t require as much training as other distances, which is great for someone starting out and trying to fit all that training into an already full calendar. Sprint races also have slightly fewer logistics to deal with. Fueling isn’t as complex, transitions can be faster and before you get too bored riding your bike or out running, it’s over!

Once you fall in love with triathlon and are hungry for more, the Olympic-distance (sometimes called International or Standard)  is there for you to conquer next. And, of course, the longer distances will always be there.

Race local

I love racing in my local races. I know the folks I’m racing with. I get to know the race director, the referees, and the volunteers. They are all people from my community. When I’m at the local coffee shop we chit chat and laugh about race day. I know that my race fees are staying in my community and supporting the local economy.

Another awesome thing about local races/smaller race companies is that they have the Athena/Clydesdale category. I should say, most do. There are many folks in the A/C world actively advocating for A/C presence in all races. If you race a USA Triathlon Sanctioned Race, the race director is required to have an A/C category.

What about the race course?

Do you like hills? Choose a hilly course! Do you like swimming in the ocean? Choose an ocean swim! Do you like trail running? Try cross triathlon! Do you like cross-country skiing? Try winter triathlon!

I choose races based on the course profile; how hilly or flat, type of open water swim, how far it is from my house. I live in a really flat area, so I try to choose flat courses, because that’s what I can easily train on. If you also live in a flat area and can’t find hills to train on, I’d recommend starting with a flat or rolling hills course. If you are scared of open water swimming, choose a race with a calm lake swim, or even better, a pool swim.

I live near the ocean, and can train in it every week; I’m not worried about choosing a course with an ocean swim. You’ll have the most fun on a course that you feel prepared for - choose your race based on that. And of course, don’t shy away from a challenging race course, but give yourself the time you need to train for it.

If you’ve never done an open water swim and you want to race the Carlsbad Triathlon in California you might want to make some trips to an ocean to get that open water experience. You do not want to try anything new on race day.

Should I get involved with the local athletic community?
Yes, of course!

Join a Masters’ Swim Team, find the local Road Runners Club, visit the local bike shop and find out when the group rides are. Surround yourself with folks who love these sports. This is where most of your good advice will come from. If it all seems overwhelming, figure out which sport feels the weakest for you, then go join that community. Not only will it make the workouts more enjoyable, but you’ll make new friends. And nothing gets me out of bed at 5:30am to do a track workout like knowing that my friends are waiting for me.

A note of caution: one of the annoying things that happens as an A/C racer is the notion that we’re in it to lose weight. Many A/C racers are in triathlon for fun, for a challenge, for fitness, for the community. Not every A/C racer is looking to lose weight. If you run into folks who address your body size or shape you’ll need to have a quick phrase ready to stop the conversation, if you want to.

Folks might try to tell you the “science” behind losing weight to be a faster racer, or the health benefits of whatever diet they are on, or other comments on why you should lose weight. Know that your body is YOUR body and others aren’t allowed to comment on it. When we get involved in our local athletic communities there is more of a chance that we’ll run into someone who will comment on our bodies. But there’s also the chance that you’ll run into your new A/C friend. And together you can change the stereotypes that exist about A/C racers.

That is a lot of information! You may need to read this article twice. Or let it all soak in and come back to read it a second time in a few weeks.

Triathlon is an amazing sport and there’s a great community that comes with it. Find your Athena and Clydesdale friends, it’s not hard, and you’ll find friends for life.

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